BOURGES, France — Michelin Group has completed the first phase of a five-year plan to enhance aircraft tire operations at its 70-year-old Bourges factory and incorporate the production of inflatable structures of the AirCaptif business it acquired in 2021.
Michelin has invested about $3.2 million at the site to build a 21,120-sq.-ft. building that will house the inflatables business, starting in January 2024 with 30 employees initially.
That space is slated to triple in size, sufficient to accommodate 100 employees or more, Michelin said, noting that the AirCaptif business — now operating as Michelin Inflatable Solutions — presents a natural overlap at the Bourges plant because of its involvement in the aviation and defense sectors.
In addition, Bourges, a city of 66,000 residents in central France, is equidistant between Trappes — AirCaptif's historic headquarters — and Michelin's research and development operations in Clermont-Ferrand, further enhancing the company's ability to develop on these high value-added markets.
The project is part of Michelin's decision to move inflatables manufacturing back to France from China, where it has been since AirCaptif's founding.
Michelin said AirCaptif's structures are "simple to use and 10 times lighter than steel," featuring a single inflation point for quick and simplified implementation. The "extremely innovative" structures, said Michelin, can be used in various applications such as aeronautics, medicine, construction, and even leisure.
At the same time, Michelin undertook a collaborative project with the site's employees to address a range of operational issues brought on by the addition of the new business and a growing aviation business.
The Bourges plant has experienced "significant" production growth in the past few years as well as taken on other business activities, such as tire-wheel assembly for a number of commercial sectors, such as trucking, civil engineering and subways, Michelin said.
This growth has necessitated the hiring and training of nearly 240 employees since early 2022, raising employment there to 643.
On the aircraft tire side, Michelin said the plant is being upgraded to accommodate the production of the company's Air X Sky Light, a production said to be lighter and longer lasting than current-generation products and the result of several breakthrough innovations.
Michelin's client list for aircraft tires produced at the Bourges plant include the U.S. Air Force, the French Air and Space Force, along with aircraft producers Airbus S.E, Dassault Aviation S.A., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. and airlines Air France-KLM Group, Deutsche Lufthansa A.G., EasyJet P.L.C. and Emirates and aerospace suppliers Avioparts and Takhzeen Aerospace.